Yeah, that’s right—I went there. No, I don’t mean the gay bar (although I did go there, too). I mean I used “tail” instead of “tale” because the story I’m telling involves a dog, a pun so tired and hackneyed it’s beneath even the most banal of writers. But by this time in December, I’m usually in a banal state of mind, having been subjected to over a month of mindless, endlessly repeated Christmas carols and tired, recycled holiday images everywhere I go. It’s always fun at first (I actually love Christmas), but by the end of the month, I get holiday fatigue. In fact, so fatigued am I that when my young female friend said to me, “Let’s go to a gay bar,” I actually said yes, just to break the holiday tedium. Still, it was an out-of-character response for a man who is (a) not gay, (b) way past the point in life in which the bar scene is novel or fun, and (c) did I mention, not gay.
So off my friend and I went, on a Thursday night in the pouring rain, to West Hollywood. Along for the ride was my friend’s service dog. And no, it isn’t one of those Paris Hilton “emotional support dogs.” I’m talking an actual service dog, with papers to prove it. Sadly, each bar we visited on the legendary Santa Monica gay-bar strip was a disappointment to my friend. None of them were gay enough. She didn’t want to see gaggles of young straight chicks whooping it up at bars where they feel safe from being hit on, surrounded by young straight dudes trying to hit on women who have their guard down because they’re in a gay bar. She wanted to see Milo-level faggotry. So, being the dutiful male that I am, I asked a waitress where we could find a truly gay gay bar, the genuine article, the real McCoit. Without hesitation, she gave me the name of the bar we sought (which I’m withholding on purpose, due to possible pending litigation).
Rain coming down steadily, my friend, her dog, and I headed down the street toward our fruity El Dorado. Upon entering, we found the place nearly deserted. This was not a good night to be out. It was a weeknight and the weather was cold and wet, so inside the bar not a creature was stirring, not even a…I could make a gerbil quip here, but I won’t; I’m on thin enough ice with the “tail” thing. We sat at the bar. I ordered two beers—one for me, one for my friend—and I closed out. The night seemed to be a bust. No local gay “color,” no excitement.
That was about to change.
We were approached by the guy who was working security at the door, a young black gentleman with a very pleasant demeanor. Quite apologetically, he told us we couldn’t sit at the bar with the dog. We didn’t have to leave, because he knew it was a service dog, but, at the manager’s insistence, we had to sit by the front door, in a “special” area where service dogs were allowed. Now, I’ve gotten to know the Americans with Disabilities Act pretty well over the past year (hanging out with a service dog will do that to you), and I calmly explained that the ADA prohibits the “segregation” of anyone with a service animal. Anywhere other customers can go, so can someone with a service dog. The law is quite clear on that point, especially regarding how it applies to bars and restaurants. If we would be allowed to sit somewhere without the dog, we must be allowed to sit somewhere with it.
There’s no need to drag (no pun intended) the story out at this point. In the bar’s manager, my friend and I finally encountered the Waldo Lydecker stereotype we’d been seeking all night. He was fussy, prissy, inflexible, and downright cunty. The ADA didn’t apply to him. The law be damned; it was his bar, his rules. My young friend was equally inflexible; the law was on her side, so she wasn’t going to back down either. The authorities were called, and things got ugly. But I’m going to stop the story there, because I have a larger point to make (and also, you know, pending litigation and such). The next morning, I struggled to understand the manager’s hostile obstinacy. Was it because my friend and I rather obviously presented as straight? Had it been anti-hetero (how I hate this word) “discrimination”? I decided to call a friend who manages a lesbian bar in another part of town. I explained the situation from the night before. She was direct in her response: “It was less likely anti-straight bias than it was all about the dog. Lots of queer bar owners hate the ADA because of the service-dog regulations.”
I was surprised. “But I thought gays loved their dogs…you know, pampering them, dressing them up in little hats and bow ties and shit.”
“Exactly,” my friend answered. “Queers are always trying to bring their non-service dogs into gay bars, and the owners and managers hate the ADA for the fact that it makes it almost impossible to turn them away. It’s a feeling of government intrusion; the owners feel like their right to run their own business is being violated by a law that demands access in the name of civil rights.”
I checked online, and I’ll be damned…yes, it’s a “thing.” All over the country, gays with service dogs complain, on Yelp, on social media, and in the LGBT press, about the resistance they get at gay bars. One example of many is this article in Living Out magazine titled “Seeing in the Dark: Gay Bars in Dire Need of Disability Training.” In the piece, the author, a blind gay man, writes about the difficulty of going to LGBT bars with a service dog:
I have had a hard time in gay clubs in Miami, New York City, and Los Angeles, to name a few. More and more, I see straight places offering more accommodations for people with disabilities, while gay establishments continue to offer poor service.
Okay, this is rich. Gay club owners getting pissed off about federal laws mandating access in the name of civil rights. But here’s the thing: The gay bar owners have a point regarding service dogs and the ADA. The law is a hot mess of government illogic. Establishments are allowed to bar any dogs that are not “genuine” service animals (as opposed to simple pets or “emotional support animals”), but, and here comes government doing what it does best—crafting irrational and contradictory rules and regulations—establishments may not demand proof that a dog is a genuine service animal. In other words, you can ban non-service animals, but you are banned from asking for proof that an animal is a service animal; you have to take the customer’s word for it.
In plain talk, any dog can go into any establishment as long as the owner says it’s a service dog. The owner might be telling the truth, or the owner might be lying, but it makes no difference: Poochie-Pie gets to come in. Business owners may ask one question—what service does the dog perform? But again, the customer must be taken at his/her/its word; the merchant can’t ask for proof. That’s the law.
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